BRT is a type of public transportation system that uses buses but is designed to be faster, more reliable, and more convenient than traditional bus service. Buses may travel within special lanes that are separated from regular traffic and stop less frequently than standard community buses. Stations offer more shelter and amenities than a typical bus stop. BRT is intended to provide the benefits of rail service with the flexibility and cost effectiveness of buses. BRT is a good solution in corridors without enough potential riders to justify the cost of building and operating rail transit.
Every BRT system has a unique design, but the most effective systems include two key elements: a dedicated transitway and improved bus operations. The transitway elements can include dedicated roadway lanes for the buses and traffic signal priority. The bus operations elements include more frequent service, stations with sheltered waiting areas and platforms that allow riders to walk directly onto the bus without the need for steps, fare payment before boarding, real-time bus arrival notices, larger buses, and a unique brand name that conveys the improved service.
“Richmond Highway BRT” is a new BRT route being developed by Fairfax County. It would travel between Huntington Metrorail Station and Fort Belvoir primarily along Richmond Highway (US 1) and N. Kings Highway. The Richmond Highway section would include dedicated lanes in the center of the roadway, and the N. Kings Highway section would operate on the existing lanes.
Existing transit service in the corridor does not meet the needs of either current or future residents in the Richmond Highway corridor. Existing challenges include long travel times, infrequent service, and delays at traffic signals and in rush hour congestion. A new BRT system would improve transit frequency, reliability, comfort, and attractiveness.
A study of several alternative public transportation options (bus, light rail, and heavy rail) was conducted by the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) in cooperation with Fairfax County from 2013 to 2015. The study concluded that BRT is the best option in the short-term, with the addition of a Metrorail extension from Huntington to Hybla Valley in the long-term. The BRT option was endorsed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in 2015.
The BRT system will replace the REX system currently serving the corridor. Fairfax Connector will continue to serve the corridor, with some routes likely to be adjusted to connect with BRT. Most bus stop locations are anticipated to remain in their approximate current locations with minor adjustments made due to construction and Connector route adjustments.
The comprehensive approach to improvements in the Richmond Highway corridor is commonly referred to as Embark Richmond Highway, and has three elements: road widening (including bicycle/pedestrian improvements), land use changes, and planning and design of the BRT system.
Updates to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan (2015-IV-MV1), known as Embark, was led by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, began in 2015, and was approved by the Board of Supervisors in March of 2018.
The BRT element, led by the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT), has been underway since 2017. To date, the project development process has involved working with residents, community stakeholders, and other county, state, and federal government agencies to plan and design the BRT system.
The table below provides links to additional information for each project.
|Comprehensive Plan Amendment
|703-324-1380, TTY 711
|Richmond Highway Road Widening, Phase 2
|703-259-2734, TTY 711
|Richmond Highway BRT
|703-877-5600, TTY 711
Along with providing for dedicated bus lanes and stations in the median of Richmond Highway, the project would provide continuous sidewalks and two-way cycle tracks on both sides of the road along with improved property entrances, improved sidewalks at intersecting streets, new turn lanes, and lighting and landscaping. The project is expected to result in enhanced safety for all users in the corridor.
The current projection is 18,000 – 20,000 riders per day by 2040.
The fare structure is not yet developed, but the goal is to be comparable to REX fares. The intent is to have fare cards that are compatible with Metro fare cards.
As of May 2020, an updated project schedule shows the opening of Section 1 delayed from late 2026 to 2030 and section 2 from 2028 to late 2030. This revised schedule reflects a more detailed analysis of the time needed to acquire right of way, relocate existing overhead and underground utilities, accommodate traffic during construction, construction sequencing, and the delay in the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) roadway widening project. The Richmond Highway BRT project team will continue to look for ways to reduce the new timeline.
The projected transit ridership though 2040 in the Richmond Highway corridor is not enough to justify the cost to build and operate Metrorail, even if the lines and stations were above ground. To plan for further in the future, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors incorporated policy guidance for a Metrorail extension to Hybla Valley in the recently adopted Embark Richmond Highway Comprehensive Plan Amendment. The BRT system is an important initial step for building transit ridership and attracting growth and activity needed to support a Metrorail extension in the long term.
Funding for VDOT’s corridor improvements project comes from different sources than the funding for the BRT project [Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) vs. Federal Transit Administration (FTA)]. This is because the purpose and need for the VDOT project is slightly different than that for the BRT project. Because of existing traffic and safety concerns on Richmond Highway, the County and VDOT decided to keep the projects separate to be able to implement both projects as quickly as possible. However, ongoing coordination between the two projects will ensure seamless construction of the BRT project in the new Richmond Highway median.
Yes, but a plan to minimize traffic impacts is part of the system design. Strategies could include scheduling lane closures during off-peak hours and/or overnight periods.
Metro’s project to demolish the deteriorated south garage is not related to the Richmond Highway BRT project, but Fairfax County is working with Metro to ensure that future BRT riders have safe, convenient access to Metrorail. For more information, please visit the WMATA website.
Placing utilities underground would raise the overall cost of the project significantly and add several years to the process. In addition, much of the state and federal funding cannot be used for undergrounding. For these reasons, the project does not include placing utilities underground.
The original DRPT study considered a BRT extension from Ft. Belvoir to Prince William County, but that extension is not currently included in the approved project scope.
Comprehensive community and stakeholder engagement was included in the DRPT Multimodal Alternative Analysis and the Embark Richmond Highway Comprehensive Plan update, with both projects coordinating closely with several stakeholder committees and the community through an extensive series of meetings.
The Richmond Highway BRT project is utilizing a similar process of engaging with elected officials, agency staff, community members, businesses owners, and other stakeholders through committees and public meetings. The County is also gathering input from stakeholders through a variety of community events and briefings throughout the study area.
Starting in summer 2020, due to restrictions related to COVID-19, FCDOT is considering ways to facilitate virtual/online engagement as the project moves forward.
To engage with the public throughout project development, the project website provides information about upcoming meetings and other opportunities to learn more and comment. You can also sign up for the project email list, or subscribe to Fairfax Alerts! (sign up for the category “Richmond Highway BRT Project Updates”).
The preliminary cost estimate for the overall BRT program (with inflation) is approximately $730 million. In addition, VDOT’s estimate to widen Richmond Highway from Route 235 to Napper Road in order to accommodate the BRT lanes is $372 million. Updated cost estimates are forthcoming.
The project will utilize a combination of local, state, federal, and private funding sources. To date, the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) has allocated $250 million for the project and the Commonwealth of Virginia awarded a grant of $50 million. Approximately $360M of the expected total of $730M has been secured. A request for FTA New Starts funding will be submitted in the near future; this could provide the bulk of the remaining funding need. In March 2020, the project was accepted in the FTA “Project Development” phase, which is required to obtain New Starts funding.
The chart below shows a summary of funding status.
Funding Gap & Proposed Sources
NVTA 70% (FY18/23)
NVTA 70%FTA New Starts
Note: *Cost based on an approximate 10% design. Subject to change and refinement as more engineering/design is completed.
Improvements to traffic congestion are a key consideration for the County and our funding partners (VDOT, NVTA) and the project is intended to provide benefits for all modes of travel. The main purpose of the project is to provide higher quality bus transit service along Richmond Highway. That effort includes detailed traffic studies to estimate the anticipated traffic impacts, including expected travel times. In particular, traffic patterns near the South Kings Highway/North Kings Highway/Richmond Highway intersection (Penn Daw area) are being studied to develop design improvements that could facilitate smooth traffic operations at this critical location. All recommended improvements will be designed to meet local and state standards to provide safe and efficient travel options. Once completed, and after review by VDOT, results and recommendations from all traffic studies will be made available to the public.
Yes, but improved configuration of signalized intersections will better accommodate left turns and U-turns.
The greatest amount of future development in the corridor is envisioned to be concentrated in the areas closest to the BRT stations. For further information regarding planned land use changes in the corridor, please refer to the County Comprehensive Plan and the Richmond Highway District Design Guidelines.
It is unknown at this time whether and how much property values in the areas surrounding the station areas and Community Business Centers (CBCs) will be affected by future development.
The Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act provides for uniform and equitable treatment of persons displaced from their homes and businesses by federal and federally-assisted projects. The Act also established uniform and equitable land acquisition policies for Federal and federally-assisted projects.
The Policy Plan element of Fairfax County’s Comprehensive Plan recommends maintaining existing affordable and workforce housing. It also recommends increasing the supply of affordable housing units each year. The Fairfax County Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) provides assistance to individuals seeking affordable home buying and rental opportunities and could help future residents find affordable and workforce housing in the Richmond Highway corridor.
Additionally, federal Environmental Justice statutes require that the County ensures full and fair participation in the transportation decision-making process by all communities potentially affected, and that we avoid, minimize, or mitigate disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects, including social and economic effects, on minority or low-income populations.
Yes, the County will need to acquire property along Richmond Highway. As design progresses, the County will identify all existing roadway right-of-way and property lines and evaluate right-of-way impacts on all impacted properties. In general, the County will try to minimize design impacts on properties. The public will be able to see and comment on these impacts at public meetings.
In addition, federal law provides important protections and assistance for people affected by federally-funded projects. Laws enacted by Congress ensure that people whose real property is acquired, or who move as a result of projects receiving federal funds, will be treated fairly and equitably and will receive assistance in moving from the property they occupy. VDOT’s Guide for Property Owners and Tenants provides useful information for those affected or potentially affected by roadway projects.
FCDOT has added a web page dedicated to right-of-way acquisition, and coordination with affected property owners and tenants will continue as the project progresses.
The project is being developed in accordance with the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA requires federal agencies who propose a major federal action (such as the BRT project) to implement a process of environmental review and documentation prior to making decisions on that action. The law requires the evaluation of all impacts from the project to the human and natural environment, including potential impacts to socioeconomic conditions, and natural, historic, and cultural resources. The purpose of NEPA is to ensure that environmental factors are weighted equally when compared to other factors in the decision-making process. NEPA requires that impacts to environmental resources be avoided, minimized, or mitigated.
The NEPA process provides opportunities for citizens to learn about proposed project actions and provide input on potential environmental impacts. That process has been followed with this project. The development of an environmental document ensures that agencies are aware of the potential environmental consequences of their actions and that they are making well-informed project decisions.
In accordance with NEPA and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended (54 U.S.C. 306108) and its implementing regulations (36 CFR Part 800), the environmental study evaluates what effect, if any, the proposed project will have on significant cultural and historic resources. The general sequence of events is as follows:
- Establish an “Area of Potential Effect”, or APE, in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Officer. (This has been completed.)
- Identify historic properties, those listed on or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, located within the APE. (This has been completed.)
- Determine what effects, if any, the project will have upon those historic properties. (This is being finalized.)
- Resolve any adverse effects through avoidance, minimization, or mitigation.